My journey to engineering

People profile

I’m Alexandra, an Engineering Lead of Treasury – Product Usage team at Wise, we build the infrastructure to help manage financial risks at Wise.

I grew up in Hungary, and decided to pursue studies in Engineering in the UK. I’ve been living in London for 5 years now, where I had my first job opportunity in the field.

Before that, I got a Bachelor degree in Economics and worked as a Marketing Manager straight away, but didn’t enjoy it – had the desire to solve different problems from the ones I was working on in this area. 

Making a career shift

My interest in Engineering started when I was still in college, whilst I was a member of a student society, which inspired students to be tech entrepreneurs. It had students from different fields, including engineering. That’s how I acknowledged the field.

As my curiosity and interest grew,  I took some online courses in web design and related knowledge (photoshop, figma, logo designs, etc). I started creating websites for family and friends as study projects, which later became a freelance activity, totaling around 10 website projects with clients from US and New Zealand!

After not feeling fulfilled working as a Marketing Manager in Budapest, I decided to pursue a Master’s in Engineering, more precisely in Big Data and Data Science. This decision was driven by the excitement of the interesting problems I could solve in this field using technology.

As an engineer my day to day work requires strong problem solving skills. There’s always new things to learn and to be done. You must remain humble and keep a life-long learning mindset to improve constantly.

Me and engineering

My first job in the engineering field was in a small company in London. I joined as part of a graduate program, working in different teams throughout the year (Analytics, Engineering and Machine Learning). The company is a Google Cloud partner, which provided me exposure to cloud technologies since the very beginning of my career and inspired me to achieve 2 Google Cloud Engineering Certifications (Data Engineer and Data Architect). 

Although I was still in the very beginning of my career, I had the opportunity to lead projects from the ground up, which I consider a great achievement for someone on my level at the time. Big data stream processing and open source technologies were a big part of my work (Apache Beam and Apache Airflow for instance).

Afterwards, I joined a London based healthcare startup, but left during my probation period due to cultural fit reasons. I consider it a brave attitude, especially very early in my career.

Whilst looking for a new full time job, I started working as a freelancer on my own venture: Data Stack TV. It was an online educational platform for data engineers, with online courses about technologies I used myself and a roadmap for Data Engineer professionals. The launch was very successful, with a bunch of applications from students in a short period of time and around 10k followers. It made me decide to keep working on creating these courses and help others to enter this field. 

Joining Wise

I joined Wise as part of the Machine Learning platform team aiming to create infrastructure for Data Scientists and Machine Learning practitioners at the company. Here I had the opportunity to work with technologies like AWS Sagemaker, EMR and Apache Airflow. I also contributed to our model deployment infrastructure running on Kubernetes, that allows data scientists to deploy various model flavours as HTTP endpoints in a matter of minutes.

After 1.5 years I moved to the Treasury – Product Usage engineering team, where later I became an Engineering Lead (my current team!), which was one of my career goals. In the beginning, I was curious to see if I would enjoy it and if I had the skills to become a lead. I really enjoy having a holistic view of what’s happening, the planning and architecture design –  as I saw this as an opportunity to be closer to the project from end-to-end and follow the impact of it afterwards.

In the beginning it was challenging, I definitely had to prove myself to the team, which brought a lot of pressure. I worked really hard during the first 6-12 months, and navigated this through managing expectations and communication.

I work in a team of four engineers across London and Tallinn. My team looks after how customers use the Wise product from the point of view of Treasury risk – ensuring we have real-time, round-the-clock visibility on customer activity and the right tools and processes to manage, limit or stop relevant patterns of customer behaviour.

One of the things that keeps me at Wise is working in empowered teams. It feels like you’re in a small startup, with freedom to decide what to work on, discover what’s going to serve the most impact, is very rewarding. Empowered teams allow me to see the impact my work is having around solving problems. Plus it gives great flexibility and more learning opportunities. It’s not just that, the people who work at Wise are very passionate and knowledgeable.

Wise has great inclusivity in terms of engineering, with many initiatives to strengthen the inside community, like Women in Engineering group, organising brunches with female engineers on a Monthly basis; Wise Women Code for young females who aspire to be engineers. 50% of engineers in my team are women which helps to boost my own confidence to build things and collaborate.

In terms of advice I’d give for someone looking to get into a career in engineering is not to underestimate your skills. It can feel a bit scary at the start when you’re solving complex problems but stick with it and once you start solving them it’s amazing how much you learn. If you can, get a mentor. I was lucky enough to be mentored by one of our women Engineering Leads. She was very encouraging and gave me confidence in the beginning.